My husband and I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1964, in our early twenties. We were the standard, clueless products of the 50′s and 60’s. Neither of us had any religious background, although we would later find out that my husband had early Mormon ancestors from Denmark who came by ship and train to Salt Lake. I’m sure they reached through the veil and stirred up the events that brought us into the gospel net.
The day the missionaries taught us about the Word of Wisdom, my husband handed them his cigarettes. They left us a pamphlet to read about Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church, which defines a healthy diet. In it the Lord says, “it is pleasing unto me that they [animals] should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine” (v. 13). We took the words at face value. We thought we were joining a vegetarian church. Well, OK, we thought we can do that. Living in warm, famine-free Southern California, we assumed these folks would not be eating much meat. Naively, we went happily off to our first church social, a ham dinner!
We had a testimony that the Church was the Lord’s authorized organization on earth and were soon baptized, but we wondered why the behavior of the Saints did not match the doctrine. I continued to watch for information from the prophets about diet. I found much support from early Church leaders as I searched the Journal of Discourses and read Elder Widtsoe’s book, The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation, which I learned had been used as the priesthood lesson manual one year. Apparently it had made little impact on the brethren. It seemed to me that the latter-day prophets had tried to lead out but no one was following.
My husband and I loved the Lord and His church, and we wanted to please Him by not using meat (D&C 89:13), but we soon found that “pleasing Him” did not please others or make us popular. Sometimes it was a lonely road. At one point of frustration I wrote a list of the reasons why we didn’t eat meat. I mimeographed it (yes, it was that long ago) and handed it out whenever I could.
I wondered why more wasn’t said in current Conference messages; then one day I was in the Church Office Building and I saw a matronly lady, someone’s secretary no doubt, walking through the offices with a huge chocolate sheet cake. I had worked in an office; we celebrated everything! It hit me forcefully: the prophets can declare doctrine, but they really can’t fight against the will of the people. As Brigham Young said:
Take people in every capacity of life, and their wills are first and foremost. You can gain and lead the affections of the people, but you cannot scare them, nor whip them, nor burn them to do right against their wills. The human family will die to gratify their wills. (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, p. 203)
From time to time we did find other Church members who believed as we did, but together we could hardly call ourselves a growing movement. We continued to follow the Lord’s “sparingly” request at various levels of commitment as we raised our children. When we were asked why we didn’t eat meat we said, “We do eat meat—in times of famine and at church socials.” (That was the last reason on our old mimeographed list; the rest were mainly scientific.)
For our little bit of obedience we were blessed with good health for ourselves and our family. There were no major illnesses, no major medical bills.
I wish I could say that we continued to study nutrition and improved our diet well beyond what was given in the Word of Wisdom. We didn’t. We kept sweets to a moderate level and didn’t fry foods, but oh, how I loved the ice cream and cheese. It never occurred to me that milk is not a plant! There were plenty of warning voices out there, but we took license from the fact that dairy isn’t mentioned in the D&C and that nothing was being said about it from Salt Lake.
All my adult life I had semi-annual bouts of respiratory illness – strep, bronchitis, etc. One of those “minor” illnesses cost me the privilege of attending the temple with a daughter to take out her endowments, and I was not much better a few days later for her wedding. In fact my sister-in-law said that when she arrived from out-of-state she thought I was dying. I was seriously overweight and my energy was low. I was in my mid 50s, and I knew I was headed for trouble.
Then someone mentioned that a man was teaching about the Word of Wisdom at a local library. I went to hear him, and he changed my life. On Easter Sunday, 1996, I invited him to our home to speak to some friends and family, and he taught us the scientific differences between plant foods and animal foods. Our married children were not interested, except for one daughter-in-law, bless her heart, and she and her husband joined us in a new vegan diet, as did our three younger daughters who were still at home. Millie, the oldest of the three, loved to cook. (As a non-cook, I prefer to fix nothing with more than three ingredients.)
Over the years Millie developed recipes that would taste good to the non-vegans in the family. She and her two younger sisters are now raising vegan children, and their spouses eat vegan, mostly. At this point the majority of our adult posterity is either vegan or they know they should be!
After nearly twenty years without cheese and bacon, do I feel deprived? Not at all. We eat simply, so we save money on groceries. When we party, we eat vegan treats. Life is good. I feel free. I feel light. I feel happy. I feel grateful. I feel blessed.
Am I healthier? Yes. Once I stopped eating all animal foods, my respiratory problems lessened right away and then completely disappeared. For years I still over-ate and used a lot of olive oil, but I made improvements, and I am finally thinner. My veins are clear and my heart is strong, “appropriate for my age.” At 73, I have more energy than I did at 50.
My husband and I know plenty of meat eaters who are more healthy than we are, and we know that we may not end our lives without illness; but we also know that eating better than we used to has given us better heath than we previously had. As a result we have been more useful to the Lord and to our family.
The promises are true. When I am in the Temple I like to run (delicately) up the stairs, just because I can. We have found “treasures of knowledge,” including some that seem “hidden.” And the “destroying angel” has passed us by, at least for now. What more could we ask?
Joyce Kinmont is 73 years old and lives in Syracuse, Utah. She and her husband, Dick, have two sons and six daughters, all with wonderful spouses, and they have 33 grandchildren. The Kinmonts were pioneers in the homeschool movement, beginning in 1975. Joyce is the founder of the LDS Home Education Association and author of Diet Decisions for Latter-day Saints. She loves sharing information about the Plant Food Diet and about homeschooling, but she treasures most the learning and the good times with her family.